He was often referred to as a country singer despite the fact that he’d done a bit of everything, but he one once said, “I’m not a country singer per se I’m a country boy who sings.”
Like Johnny Cash, his career began in the fifties on the rock ‘n’ roll scene after his uncle Boo taught him guitar. He was born in Arkansas but moved to Albuquerque in 1954 because he wanted to join his uncle’s band who were called Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys. Four years later he formed his own band called the Western Wranglers. He toured with the Champs who were riding high in the charts with Tequila but then two years later, in 1960, he became a member.
He had a natural talent for song writing and in 1961, now living in Los Angeles, he got a daytime job in a music publishing company where he spent all day writing songs and recording demos. On the back of that he became a much in-demand session and joined the Wrecking Crew, a bunch of session musicians which included keyboard players Leon Russell, Larry Knechtel (who joined Bread in the seventies), female bass player Carol Kaye and prolific drummer Hal Blaine. Together they played on a stack of his recorded by The Mama’s and the Papas, Sonny and Cher, The Byrds, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, the Monkees, the Beach Boys and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound Orchestra.
He signed with Capitol records in 1962 and released a few unsuccessful singles. A real break came, albeit short-lived in December 1964 when he briefly became a touring-only member of the Beach Boys standing in for Brian Wilson. He was invited to play on their Pet Sounds album in 1966.
As an in-demand session musician he never knew where or when he’d be required and, indeed, what he’d be playing, he once said in an interview with the Associated press, “We’d get the rock ‘n’ roll guys and play all that, then we’d get Sinatra and Dean Martin, that was a kick, I really enjoyed that. I didn’t want to go nowhere. I was making more money than I ever made just doing studio work.”
His recordings for Capitol weren’t successful and the label were considering dropping him, but in a last-ditch attempt for success they teamed him up with producer Al De Lory. The pair wrote a song called Burning Bridges and landed themselves a top 20 country hit. Al found a song by John Hartford called Gentle on My Mind which gave Glen his first Billboard top 40 single, it didn’t chart in the UK but a cover by Dean Martin, two years later, made number two. His follow-up, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, was the first of many tracks he recorded that were written by Jimmy Webb. Others included Wichita Lineman, his first UK hit, Galveston, Honey Come Back and the superb Where’s The Playground Susie.
Glen continued with a successful solo career and had further UK hits with All I Have To Do Is Dream, a duet with label-mate Bobbie Gentry, Everything A Man Could Ever Need, It’s Only Make Believe, a cover of Roy Orbison’s Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream) and his most successful hit, Rhinestone Cowboy which reached number one in the States and number four in UK. His last UK hit was the follow-up, the Allen Toussaint song Southern Nights which also topped the US singles chart.
Like many musicians, Glen suffered a little bit with the fame and turned to drink and drugs and during the 1980s indulged in a turbulent relationship with the country singer Tanya Tucker. He continued to record country albums and released nine albums during the decade. In the 1990s he turned his attention to gospel music and released a number on CDs.
In 1994 he wrote his autobiography called Rhinestone Cowboy. He admitted that when he first heard the song, as originally recorded by Larry Weiss in 1974, he said, “I thought it was my autobiography set to song.”
In 2011 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease but instead of shying away from the limelight, he made it publicly known and recorded a farewell album called Ghost on the Canvas which included contributions from Bob Dylan’s son Jacob, Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins and Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick. The majority of the songs were Campbell’s own compositions. It wasn’t his last album, As soon as Ghost on the Canvas was completed he also recorded another album called See You There, incidentally his 63rd, which contained new versions on many of his classic hits, but it was purposely held back to coincide with a Farewell tour Glen was planning.
On completing the tour, he wanted to record one final album. In an interview, his wife Kim said, “Glen wanted to preserve what magic was left,” and showcased in what would be his final recordings. That album was poignantly called Adiós and featured A Thing Called Love, Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, it’s All Right, Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin’ and a duet with Willie Nelson on Funny How Time Slips Away. That album reached number three, his highest ever charting, non-compilation album. It must be mentioned that Glen went down the same route and Pat Boone and Paul Anka and recording an album of unusual rock cover versions. Pat did it with Pat Boone Rocks in 2009 and Anka with Rock Swings in 2005, Glen released Meet Glen Campbell in 2008 and featured covers of the Foo Fighters’ Times like These, U2’s All I Want Is You and an excellent version of Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).
Glen died on 8th August and is survived by his fourth wife Kim and their children Cal, Shannon and Ashley. Additionally he has five children from previous marriages and 10 grandchildren.